Across the Boundaries of Belief: Contemporary Issues in the Anthropology of Religion

By Morton Klass; Maxine Weisgrau | Go to book overview

possession is welcomed as a harbinger of healing as against those in societies where possession is dangerous or unwelcome? How do such issues affect the role and behavior of the healer?

The global spread of the biomedical paradigm introduces other questions. How can people believe in two mutually exclusive systems, such as germ theory of disease and possession by evil spirits? Anthony F. C. Wallace ( 1966) has suggested that in cases where such conflicting or dissonant beliefs are held, an eventual "simplification of the repertoire" takes place, and either one or the other of the conflicting beliefs is crowded out or some fusion of the two is achieved.

Recent ethnographic data, we may observe, tend to suggest that instead of "simplification" in the case of health care medical doctors and traditional healers may offer complementary services in medically pluralistic systems. There seems to be a tendency, for example, for people in such societies to visit traditional healers for one kind of problem and medical doctors for another, in the belief that the two types of healers present different levels of explanation or comfort.

This pluralistic strategy raises questions about how the practitioners of the two systems relate to each other. Do they achieve some measure of accommodation or are they bitter enemies? Although it is difficult to make universal generalizations, the contemporary American medical system may provide some interesting clues. Medical practitioners, HMOs, and even insurance companies are increasingly willing to make accommodations that balance a wide range of cultural belief systems. This acceptance of the role of cultural ideas about healing suggests the possibility that altered states of consciousness and the religious systems within which they are embedded will be invigorated by, rather than replaced by, Western biomedical science.


References

Ong Aiwa 1987 Spirits of Resistance and Capitalist Discipline. Factory Women in Malaysia. Albany: State University of New York Press. Wallace Anthony E. C. 1966 Religion: An Anthropological View. New York: Random House.

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